power & transformation.

kathyescobar church stuff, equality, faith shifts, incarnational, injustice, leadership, spiritual formation 5 Comments

power offers an easy substitute

This month’s Synchroblog was centered on spiritual abuse & redemption. I didn’t have time to write earlier but it is a topic near and dear to my heart. At the Denver Faith and Justice Conference two weekends ago my friend Ryan Taylor shared about 5 stages of power, a blend of Janet Hagberg and Richard Rohr’s work on power. Respecting and understanding these stages is important and something I wish we would talk about more openly, more honestly, more reflectively in small and big pockets.

As we get in touch with our own story related to power, we connect to the bigger story about it, too.

Plus, all spiritual abuse comes from power issues.

However, lots of other roads also lead there. Inequality, injustice, church woundedness, oppression, broken relationship–all of these things usually, somehow-someway have power issues underneath.

One of the things I love about Jesus and the Kingdom of God we’re called to co-create is that he turns all the power structures of the world upside down. What we think is strong, isn’t. What we think is success, isn’t. What we sometimes think is worth following because it looks shiny & “powerful” & cool, often isn’t.

It seems like there are several categories of people that cover most of us when it comes to power:

  1. Our weird crazy human draw to either amass power or join-with-those-who-have it.
  2. Those with a tendency to search for a king, a hero, someone-to-follow-and-tell-us-what-to-think-and-feel.
  3. Those stripped of power because of the grooves of oppression and injustice who feel like there’s no option for change.

Today, I wanted to quickly walk through the 5 stages of power that Ryan shared at the conference. They will only scratch the surface, but I personally think they are so helpful to wrestle with and consider.

We can so easily get stuck in the first three:

  • Stage 1 – Powerlessness // This stage is characterized by inner voices as well as outer voices that communicate we are inferior and always will be. Underneath it makes us scared to death, terrified. We get stuck in inferiority and have a blind obedience to systems to gain reward or promotion. To move to the next stage, we have to begin to have some sense of an identity, no matter how small.
  • Stage 2 – Power by Association // This stage is where power is found entirely outside of oneself through external associations. We gain our power by being part of a team we want to be associated with and begin to mimic their actions, beliefs, and culture. All of our desires are born from other people. In this stage, we have extreme loyalty to our leaders and don’t know who we are apart from them.
  • Stage 3 – Power by Symbol and Achievement // This is when power is found by external symbols such as titles, roles, and responsibilities. We’ve learned to play the game and succeed in it. The system provides perks, and we get trapped by golden handcuffs or fear of losing what we’ve gained.  Our roles and responsibilities make us something and we’re not sure who we are without them. For many Christians, this can be our roles in the church, the ways we serve, the ministries we are part of.

All these first 3 stages of power are about finding it externally. I believe wholeheartedly that “the church” is built upon these first three stages of power and has a possibly unconscious but still vested interest in keeping people there.


Because Stages 1-3 of power keeps things manageable & contained. It’s linear. It’s easy to follow. It’s part of our work-hard-and-make-your-way-up mentality that so much of our faith and work is built on.

They are also a dangerous cocktail related to creating a breeding ground for spiritual abuse.

Fortunately, many of us have hit some kind of what Hagberg calls “The Wall” when it comes to power. We know something’s not quite right. We know the power we’ve ascribed to isn’t the Jesus-y kind. We know we’ve given ourselves over to something that just doesn’t satisfy. We can no longer just blindly follow certain kinds of leaders. We begin to confront our false self that thrives in Stages 1-3 and get in touch with our authentic souls.

I believe hitting a wall and moving out of Stages 1-3 is true spiritual and emotional maturity because we begin to gain power internally in the deep places of our souls, the kind I think Jesus was talking about.  I also think it’s the best way for abuse survivors to heal.

When we allow ourselves to let go of the safety of what I’d call “false power” we begin to move toward the next stage, which I hope is an area more and more of us are willing to bravely explore:

  • Stage 4 – Power by Reflection and Inner Knowledge. This is when we humble ourselves and allow ourselves to consider questions about power and ourselves and systems that we hadn’t before.  We let go of symbols, titles, or knowledge about God and begin more honest self-reflection. It’s marked by humility, openness, and willingness. Ryan called it an “attentive patience” (I love that). I think this is where a lot of faith shifters and people-in-big-life-transitions are living right now, realizing so much of what we’ve ascribed to isn’t leading to life.
  • Lastly is Stage 5, Power by Known Purpose. We know our limits and accept ourselves for who we are; we also embody a deep compassion for ourselves and others.  I see known-purpose-power as a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others in a way that isn’t concerned with protecting ourselves because we know we don’t need to. We have a deeper security that guides us and a stable, secure foundation to live from that is based on freedom, not fear. Think how cool it would be if there were communities of faith and living systems (link) built on this kind of power.

I hope we keep talking about and re-thinking power–our own power, the power of the systems so many of us have ascribed to, and the kind of power we are called to cultivate in this world as Jesus-followers-and-dignity-restorers-and-lovers-of-people.

Oh, we are in desperate need of transformed Stage 4 & 5 power in this world!

I hope you have a good Thanksgiving week. All 5 of my kids will be home starting tomorrow and so Jose and I will be in happy mommy and daddy vacation mode. See you next week.

peace and hope and prayers for ferguson, kathy

things that make me stand on tables & go a little crazy

kathyescobar church stuff, crazy making, equality, ex good christian women, faith shifts, injustice, rants 26 Comments

sometimes there are things that make us want to cry and swear updated

A few days ago I had a really interesting & unexpected thing happen to me that stirred up a lot of big feelings.  It’s too complicated to go into all of the details, but the essence is this–I criss-crossed with the realities of what happens when conservative Christian power intersects with the work of standing alongside the marginalized and oppressed in more than just words. This wasn’t something related to The Refuge or even me personally but as I heard the story of what happens when some passionate Christians decide to become allies and advocates to those on the underside of power and the subsequent fallout for their simple choices, I began to cry and found that I just couldn’t stop. I even almost threw up in the parking lot. I think I just felt truly sickened by hearing yet another story of power & privilege attempting to thwart justice & mercy in the church that’s in such desperate & dire need of change.

I started thinking of my own story of how so much of my downfall in big church wasn’t about gender equality (even though that was the last straw), but about my advocating for the underrepresented, for the poor, for the marginalized & oppressed, for the least, for the last.

In the end, it was about power.  The powerful didn’t want to be uncomfortable. And the powerful paid the bills.

I was perceived as a little crazy. Honestly, I don’t think even one of my ideas for the church are crazy when I look at the gospels and the early church.

What’s actually crazy is our current system of church and power and how it’s just-so-freaking-contrary-to-the-ways-of-Jesus-that-sometimes-it’s-like-a-dark-comedy-or-a-bad-dream.

No wonder people are leaving it.

Anyway, I’ve been really raw and wacked out these past few days. It’s stirred up some interesting feelings about how tiring it is to bump up against the same old same old over and over and over again when it comes to equality and dignity and mercy and justice in the place where it’s supposed to be the most freely-given.

I started thinking about these things that turn me into a crazy woman who wants to stand on tables and rant & rave & cry & swear & eat a lot of chocolate.

Yeah, I admit, I go a little nuts when people say things like:

  • “I’m not as broken as they are”
  • “We let women lead.” 
  • “But remember, the church is made up of imperfect people.”
  • “Well you know, there are biblical roles for women and men.”  
  • “I’m not like those people.” 

Or leaders trying to maintain the status quo out of economic fear say:

  • It’s just not the right time yet…”  (yeah, it will never feel like the “right time” when it comes to changing deep grooves of patriarchy and oppression because there will always be push back)
  • They won’t come if they feel uncomfortable.”

White people of privilege who say things like:

  • “Well, now I am discriminated against.”
  • “I don’t know what they’re so angry about anyway.” 
  • “There are two sides to the story” (on certain issues like Native Americans & slavery) 
  • There’s no such thing as white privilege.” (My son told me about the Daily Show segment with Bill O’Reilly and I made the mistake of watching it).

Men and women who aren’t in relationship with someone in poverty or pain who say things like:

  • “Well, They just need to ________…” (like people who are in deeply embedded grooves of poverty and cycles of abuse are just one-sentence-away from radical change)
  • I worked hard to get where I am today; why can’t they?” 

I also go a little nuts when I think of:

  • Mark Driscoll probably getting a new church or ministry within the next year and making 6 figures at it.
  • Little boys and girls being taught total depravity and that they are miserable wretches with nothing good in them in so many Christian schools and grownup men & women being taught the same thing in so many churches.
  • People who go to churches week after week after week after week because they love the teaching & the music & the kids program but are lonely and have no one in their life who knows what’s really going on with them.
  • Yet another church splitting or ministry dividing over the issue of homosexuality.
  • Yet another church being planted that’s fully funded and resourced and filled with white, suburban families that all look exactly the same.
  • All the money that’s floating around out there in “the church” to keep so many people safe and comfortable when so many women, men, and children here and abroad are sick & dying & desperate & in-so-much-need-of-hope-and-help.

Yeah, I guess a lot of things get me riled up, and I think that’s okay. These are things I deeply care about for a reason.

One thing that I did these past two days was not try to just buck up and push my crazy feelings aside. I let myself cry & swear & talk & share & process the anger and sadness inside of me. It really helped.

I’d love to hear yours. What are your makes-you-crazy-when-people-say-or-do-that things related to faith & church?


ps: Something that does give me hope this week is the ongoing work of Christians for Biblical Equality; they work tirelessly on behalf of gender equality around the world. They asked me to write a piece for Arise and here’s what emerged–What I Keep Learning About Gender Equality and the Church. Keep on keeping on…

faith shifts: what about the kids?

kathyescobar ex good christian women, faith shifts, mommydom, video convos 11 Comments

be kind and gentle with yourself

One of the most tricky parts about shifting faith is wondering what it means for our kids. I wrote a post several years ago called kids & faith: what are we creating and recently shared a little bit more specifically about the kids & faith shifts in this me-just-talking-to-Travis-Reed video conversation on The Work of the People:

I thought today I’d also share a little excerpt from Faith Shift centered specifically on this because so many of us struggle on how to navigate these tricky waters as parents. As a mommy of 5 kids, I know it’s not an easy dance.

Ways Faith-Shifting Parents Can Help Their Kids 

Kids don’t need to know all the details. We said too much out loud at a time when our oldest two kids were almost teenagers in Christian school. While some things can’t be avoided when you live in the same house, my weeping, my anger about the church, and the specifics of how I had been hurt were details my kids didn’t need to know. Frankly, it left them really confused. There’s a way to be honest and authentic without exposing them to all the intricacies and emotions. I wish I had just said the truth: “I am going through a really weird season in my faith where I am struggling with God and the church, but I am going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.” I understand that you might be thinking, I’m not sure I am going to be okay and I don’t want to lie. But I’ll remind you: somehow, some way, you’ll make it to a new place even though you’re not sure what that place may be yet. Kids need this kind of security from their parents.

Kids can live without church programming. It’s okay to give that up. There are all kinds of ways to teach kids about God and faith without going to church on Sunday mornings. It’s amazing how much instruction we have handed over to the church instead of engaging with it ourselves, and it’s a good challenge not to rely on outside forces to teach our kids.

Kids can live with church programming. It’s okay to keep participating in church if that’s what you choose. Faith shifters need to be cautious about what kids are being taught, but remember, kids love stories and ideas. There’s a way to take part without having the church system infiltrate every part of your family’s lives and hearts. At the same time, it’s important to stay on top of what they are being taught and not assume it’s completely safe or doesn’t matter. Ask questions and find out what they’re learning. It’s okay to disagree with teachings and talk about it together (depending on their age). I have said to my kids, “I don’t agree with that” or “I don’t interpret the Bible the same way they do,” and it has helped them see that there are multiple perspectives. We need to be careful, though, that we are not part of systems where we are constantly at odds with teaching because that is too confusing for children.

Focus on what you do still know. My three youngest boys are probably the healthiest when it comes to spiritual things because they have been part of a free system for the longest. Even though there’s a lot I doubt now, a few truths remain that I can pass on: God loves them, God will always be with them no matter what, and Jesus’s ways are worth following. These truths have helped them become more secure.

Discover what’s going on with the kids by asking questions. “What do you guys think about this?” became one of my favorite questions, because they always share the most amazing little kernels of beauty and truth. In my Fusing days I would have wanted to correct them and make sure they knew the “right” answers. Now, I appreciate their responses and acknowledge the richness of their thoughts even though they might be challenging. This means we, as parents, will have to live with answers that might freak us out or things they may say in front of our old friends from church. It’s good to loosen our grip on these things, defuse power struggles, and let our kids participate in their faith development in a more organic way. We can teach our children to ask questions instead of blindly accepting whatever someone in authority is teaching them is “biblical.”

Decide on your essentials. Every family has its own essentials, but it’s a good idea to decide and name what those might be. Then you know you can let go of the nonessentials and release guilt that you might carry for not passing on “enough” to the kids. Essentials are enough. Some of ours are love God, love others, love yourselves in whatever ways you can.

Trust their long-haul journeys. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and see only our mistakes or what our kids are lacking. Every child has a life of spirituality ahead, and each will wrestle with faith in different ways over time. Seeing the big picture is wise. As you trust your own long-haul journey, you can trust theirs as well.

Actions are better than words. Kids are visual learners. They love to practice, engage, and participate in learning. Instead of talking about our beliefs, we started acting on them by loving people, sacrificing our time for others, and just serving instead of talking about why we’re supposed to do it. My husband went to law school a few years ago so he could get a second job serving domestic-violence victims as a pro bono lawyer. He didn’t say “God wants us to do x, y, and z to serve him properly”—he just did it.

It’s so hard to parent through a faith shift! It’s scary, and my heart hurts for all of the suffering many parents have endured wondering if their choices were going to damage the kids. It’s important to let go of perfectionism and control when it comes to this important task. We will mess things up. We will make mistakes. We will feel afraid. But in the end, the best we can offer is modeling our own authentic faith.

Remember, we’re always doing the best we can with what we’ve got. This is tough stuff, but your caring about it matters.

Be kind and gentle with yourself. We’ll need grace and mercy to fill in the cracks.

(Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart, pp. 207-211)

I am sure there are many others, too, and would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

I asked my older kids to quickly share with me what advice they had for parents related to their kids and a shifting faith. The best quote: “Better to be honest than pretend you have all the answers.” 


let’s stop joking about the word “whore…”

kathyescobar equality, injustice, rants 28 Comments

words matter

This could possibly be my shortest blog post ever, a close second to “we let women lead.”

In the past month or so I have heard several different men & women say things like this: “I’m such an approval whore” or “I’m a whore for chocolate” or “I’m an attention whore.”  Everyone laughed.

It made me cringe inside and I remember thinking, “This is what happens when your eyes get opened to injustice. You start noticing stuff you never noticed before and then you have to consider doing something about it.”

And then I pushed it down in the moment because I don’t want to be one of those hard-ass judgy people who critique every little thing that people say. That feels yucky, and I know I can say all kinds of unintentionally-not-good-things, too. I also know when they said these words it doesn’t come from a bad place or a mean heart. These people care about women and people deeply and were just using it as a figure of speech.

It’s just become normal to use the word “whore” as a common phrase without thinking of its underpinning. 

It’s supposed to be funny.

But it’s not.

No woman sets out to sell her body for sex.

No woman is meant to sell her body for sex.

No woman should have to sell her body for sex.

And we shouldn’t be joking about it.

When we use the word “whore” tacked onto our language like it’s nothing, it desensitizes us to the plight of our sisters.

It minimizes the reality that right now as i’m writing these words and as you are reading them there are countless number of women whose bodies are being used for sex because they are either being forced to or they have no other options.

Yeah, “whore” is just something I hope to see taken out of our vocabulary completely.

Words matter.

I would love for us to find another way to say what we’re trying to say that doesn’t further degrade what’s already being degraded.

It’s really not funny. And it’s definitely not the right word.

listening in on some faith shift conversations.

kathyescobar church stuff, down we go, faith shifts, healing, incarnational, leadership, spiritual formation, video convos 8 Comments

hope begins in the dark

Some of you may already know about The Work of the People and the interesting and beautiful material they have.  Interviews, visual liturgies, and all kinds of other awesomeness abound on their site. If you don’t subscribe yet, it’s so worth it.  There is so much beauty and hope packed in there! My personal favorites are the Jean Vanier pieces, and we’ve used the visual liturgies for different Refuge gatherings over the years.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago on Facebook, in September I spent some time gabbing with my friend Travis Reed, founder and filmmaker of The Work of the People. I had no idea what he would do with our rambles, but he pulled them all together into a little faith shifting series.

Here’s a link list of all the videos. 

A lot of you have already seen the first one–Faith Shift: How do we find our way forward when everything we once believed comes apart? 

We talked about all kinds of things related to faith that day, too, and they are each on different videos:

  • Hearing the CallWhen our faith unravels, we lose a lot, but death is part of resurrection. This one is really part 2 of the first one and centers on Unraveling.
  • Holding Onto Power: All roads lead to power, and that’s why we need to talk about it.  I am so glad that he focused one video specifically on power, a topic that is hard to talk about but that we need to address. Misused power is often a catalyst for faith shifts, too, and we are going to be talking all about it this weekend at the Denver Faith and Justice Conference.
  • Signs of Life: What happens when our old spiritual tricks stop working but we’re desperate for signs of Life?  For me, one of the hardest things about rebuilding faith after so much unraveled was how to find ways to connect with God again.

I’ve already shared here how freaking vulnerable the past few weeks have felt, so adding more to the mix isn’t really my favorite thing.  At the same time, I hope listening into conversations like this help others keep processing their shifting faith in whatever ways are helpful.

If you watch them, I’d love to hear anything they stir up for you.  Your stories & reflections always bring me hope.

peace, kathy